False Information from City Officials Kills Save San Jose Libraries Initiative

In one of the biggest blunders in recent local politics, city officials admitted this week that they provided false information to organizers of the Save San Jose Libraries initiative regarding the number of signatures needed to place a measure on the November ballot. As a result, the initiative—an effort that has been in the works for more than year—is unlikely to make it to voters.

A memo from City Clerk Dennis Hawkins to city staff Thursday admitted that organizers were told that they needed to gather more signatures than 5 percent of registered voters in San Jose to qualify for the November ballot. This is the threshold for enacting a new city ordinance. However, because the initiative would be a charter amendment that provides a fixed amount of the city’s general fund to libraries, the necessary percentage is 15.

Peter Allen, an organizer for Save San Jose Libraries—whose co-chairs include former Mayor Susan Hammer, former Vice Mayor Frank Fiscallini and Blanca Alvarado, the first Latina councilmember in San Jose’s history—said the city provided incorrect information to organizers dating back to March 2012. (Full disclosure: Allen is also a columnist for San Jose Inside.)

“They pretty much effectively killed our campaign,” Allen said. “It’s another example of city staff screwing up and trying to put the blame on others. It’s going to subvert the will of the people on a massive scale—40,000 registered voters.”

Allen said that number is the amount of signatures Save San Jose Libraries has gathered to date and planned on turning in this week.

While Hawkins expressed regret in his memo, he added that there is no legal obligation on the city to provide accurate information on the requirements to place an initiative on the ballot.

“It’s pretty obvious no one at City Hall in management knows what’s going on,” Allen said. “If something like this can happen, what else do they have confused? Should we go back and look at their analysis of Measure B?

“If we had been told we needed to get to the 15 percent threshold, we never would have gone down this path.”

An email sent by Hawkins to Allen as recently as Monday reads as follows:

“Peter: The total City of San Jose voter registration count, based on the report issued by the Registrar of Voters on 1/4/12 which was in effect at the time of your notice of intent, is 383,220. In order to qualify the measure for the next General Election, you need signatures from 5% of the total registered voters – therefore, you must have at least 19,161 valid signatures from City of San Jose registered voters in order to qualify for the ballot. Please contact me if you have any further questions. –Dennis”

Mayor Chuck Reed and several councilmembers, including SJI columnist Pierluigi Oliverio, have criticized the Save San Jose Libraries initiative. They argue it would take away badly needed funds to pay police. Allen and others counter that library funding has been decimated by a decade of budget shortfalls and other general fund money could be redirected to pay for public safety needs.

The initiative could still make it to the November ballot without submitting any signatures, if a majority of the City Council votes to do so.

“To me, that’s the most equitable, reasonable solution to this, that would satisfy all parties involved and could prevent a larger backlash against the city,” Allen said. “If we can’t get it on the ballot, and we can’t be reimbursed, there’s going to be heck to pay.”

He added that litigation to recover costs could be a possibility.

Josh Koehn is a former managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley.

19 Comments

  1. Deception as a technique for derailing citizen initiative in policy is very old.  A few years ago, a large group sought to place the cardroom casinos on the ballot and, while we computed the numbers required ourselves, data was not so readily available as it is now, and we took the same step of obtaining a letter from the city clerk stating the numbers of signatures needed.

    After we turned in the petitions with many more signatures than we thought were needed, the city clerk announced the number had shifted and so residents did not get to vote on the cardroom casinos.

    But the same kind of thing goes on at every level of San Jose.  The superintendent who looks straight into your eyes and says, “You are the first (or only) person to ever complain about that!”  Or the city planner who refuses to recognize in official documents that the neighborhood “amenities” had changed greatly since the original plan was written 12 months earlier. 

    Or the city librarian who covers up the existence of the former mayor who gave his first year’s salary back to the city to start the city library…even while chirping that city residents may raise money to donate to the library to get recognition of the founder if they wish.

  2. Let me guess, there’s no procedure or policy that allows recovery for such an egregious error. Unbelievable.  Time for the city to step up and do the right thing here.

  3. This is Mayor Reed Sunshine Reform.  During the hours of Sunshine we look nice, speak nice, and the Mercury prints what ever we tell them.  But during the dark hours we lie, about numbers 650 million, 5 % vs15%, we send out council people to take down signs, etc.  And when the sun comes back up nothing happens to these people that follow their own rules.  This is a very dangerous city government.  When cops themselves loose faith in cith government to follow its own rules and laws it does not say much for democracy.

  4. Mercury news says this is controversial measure, didn’t say why it’s controversial ?? And added it hit road block.  Nice move Mayor Reed maybe the group can use is signatures for a recall?

  5. The Residents of San Jose are BLIND SHEEP if they honestly believe that this was an honest Mistake. This Mayor and Council have perfected this technique and the sad part is San Jose is more than willing to take it.

  6. “Hawkins expressed regret in his memo, he added that there is no legal obligation on the city to provide accurate information…”

    Well there you have it. Hawkins statement pretty much sums up Mayor Reeds Sunshine Reform and Open Government Policy – the touchstone testament to Reed and Company’s integrity.

    You all believed him when and even made excuses for Reed when we told you he was lying about the pensions – What was it? “rough handedness…. poor bedside manner? just a mild blunder?”…. 

    ooooohhhhhh “heck to pay…”  I’m sure Mayor Reed is shaking in his boots Peter.

  7. Gee Wiz! Poor Allen and all his supporters. Now you know what it’s like to be lied to by the CITY! It’s funny how when the lies work in favor of your causes, it’s fair play. But when the lies work against your cause, it’s law suit time.

    Maybe Dennis just pulled the number off the top of his head. Sorry to have to inform you Allen, but all of the best and qualified employees have left the CITY because of the destruction done by these same people that lied to you. It wasn’t just Dennis Allen, the problem is systemic.

    Don’t tell me that you actually believe that all of those people including Chuck, Pier and all the rest don’t know the rules around a ballet initiative. You’ve got to be asking yourself Allen, how is it that former Mayor Hammer and Fiscallini didn’t know? Read between the lines Allen, when you can’t figure out the truth…follow the money! Hey Allen, I’ll bet you a vote and a signature that you voted for measure B. Your not the first or last to be duped by this gang running CITY HALL.

  8. Peter,
    Remember your post just a few days ago calling for an improved political discourse that is free from attack and that “awe shucks” pollyanish dream that everyone in politics or government is deep down a good person trying to do the right thing….how you feeling about that today.

    You got hosed by the same establishment players that want to privatize everything, hand out taxpayer dollars to their developer friends, lie, cheat, steal and then lie about their cheating and stealing.

    Your quote in today’s paper was wrong, dead wrong.  You said “We are pursuing other options to right the wrong done by city employees.”  Really, blame it on city employees…how about the City Clerk and City Attorney and the Mayor and City Manager….You should not attack the city employees but rather the CITY MANAGEMENT. 

    But then again you just wrote that attacks and an elevated political discourse are what is needed in this valley so maybe you can do a silent candlelight vigil in front of the clerk’s office…Ya right.

  9. Just another example of Chuck’s SOP, if he doesn’t like it – kill it.  Lie, cheat, do what you have to do but KILL IT!

    Chuck and his gang of 5 will do what ever to get their way.  Remember If he likes it let the voters decide, if he doesn’t, let the courts decide.  And if neither is a option, just get a puppet to lie and then we can say “oh, so sorry”.

    A classic lie, if it passes we will have to lay off more cops and firemen. Hell, they are so under staffed and leaving as fast as they can there is no one left to layoff.

    Thank you for voting on measure B – NOT.

    Homicide count just went up again last night!

  10. This sort of thing really undermines trust in government.

    The Council should either fire the City Clerk, or vote to put it on the ballot.

  11. > “It’s pretty obvious no one at City Hall in management knows what’s going on,” Allen said. “If something like this can happen, what else do they have confused?

    I’ve been told that the bigger the government bureaucracy, the smarter the bureaucrats are, and the better things work.

    That’s why Obamacare is such a great idea.

  12. Two former city mayors, one former city council person and politico Allen and they didn’t figure out how to check the necessary requirement for the initiative they were championing themselves?  That’s pretty lazy footwork there folks. 

    Why are they asking city officials for the info rather then dealing with the registrar of voters or election officials they’d actually be turning in the signatures to? 

    The city official may have been malicious or may have been an oversight, either way it shouldn’t have been the final word the committee relied on.  I signed one of the petitions, I support the initiative but how sad that all those great political minds didn’t take the time to get the correct info themselves.  Maybe they mistakenly thought city staff still worked for them.  L-A-Z-Y.

    • Unaware in D5…
      As a Magdalena Carrasco apologist I find it ironic that you accuse anyone of being lazy.  A cursory look at public records would have revealed a 7 year history of non filing of income taxes, foreclosures, bankruptcies, even a library fine that was so overdue it was made into a lien.  Carrasco was your choice and am I glad the voters said no to her

      Your track record on candidates in D5 shows a penchant for laziness and a lack of footwork.

      Go do your homework.

  13. City official needs to learn to read.  I might suggest a probationary term of conditional employment during which the individual in question learns how to read the city charter.

    As far as the library advocates go, they were given a raw deal by the city and deserve better.  I personally support the libraries and feel like we could do better.